Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chapter Four: Adam's Disobedience and Christ's Obedience

(Christ succeeds where Adam fails)

Biehl makes it clear what the stakes are early in the chapter; "Fundamental to Edwards' understanding of the necessity of Christ's perfect obedience to God's rule of righteousness to redeem sinners is that 'all men are guilty of Adam's first sin.'" (Infinite Merit, Biehl, 104) If Adam was according Edwards "our common father and representative who stood in our room: we were all in his loins," (105) then it follows that Adam's disobedience is shared by all. Regarding Justification, this means we are all doomed because Adam was meant to be obedient to God's rule of righteousness which is another way of describing the law that underpins all other natural, moral and Jewish laws. This is a long post so I've broken up into headings with a few pictures to make it easier for my readers.

The Transmission of Original Sin
While Biehl spends several pages concentrating on the nature of this underlying law or 'rule of righteousness', (it's strict, infinite and has no provision for deliverance) I want focus briefly on Edwards' view of how Original Sin is transmitted from Adam to us. Edwards finds Romans 5:12-14 significant in showing that from Adam to Moses death reigned even though those people did not violate the law given to Adam in the way Adam had done. Edwards argues "The covenant which he [Adam] broke was made with us all, and for us all in him; it cannot be supposed that the covenant that God made with Adam, He made only for his single person. That is ridiculous, for at that rate there must be a particular covenant made with every particular person in all nations and ages." (105)

The guilt of the Fall is potent
Because of the extension of glory through the 'rule of rightousness' to Adam, his disobedience is measured against the size of God. Sin says Edwards is of "infinite demerit." (114) Therefore no good works of any finite size can compensate for the size of Adam's transgression. The Fall points out Edwards is "infinitely hateful." (117)

Edwards sounds like CS Lewis!
Edwards then says something very interesting; remember Aslan referring to the older magic that went deeper even then the sacrifice the White Witch demanded? "There have never been two covenants, in strictness of speech," rather "only two ways constituted of performing of this covenant [God's rule of rightousness]." (123) Obedience has and always will be required. Only God's graceful incarnation takes care of both the negative violation and the positive requirements.

Halfway Summary:
  • God began a rule of righteousness with his creatures and Adam was their representative.
  • This rule of righteousness displays and communicates God's glory shared between the persons of the Trinity
  • Adam transgressed God's rule and the penalty; death, matched the the magnitude of the action.
How then can we be right with God?
"To be justified by God, therefore, is to be judged by God as 'standing right' with respect to God's rule or law." (126) In other words we are pardoned. However we still cannot met the requirements of obedience. In a sense the vindication of God is incomplete. Biehl then lands an important body blow; "Therefore to be forgiven one's sins only, without having performed the positive righteousness required by the law, would render one's status with respect to eternal life as equal to that of Adam's status before his fall." (131) Edwards argues that Christ obtains eternal life because he is the obedient second (and true) Adam.

Perfect Justification
"Justification would be a false sentence without perfect righteousness." (139) This means on judgement day, says Edwards, "there will be the most glorious discovery of the justice of God that was ever made," for "God will appear to all to be universally righteous towards everyone." (140) God not just displays but communicates his glory to his creatures. However "the requirement of perfect positive righteousness remains, and nothing of sinful mankind can meet it." (144)

What's faith then?
"Faith is the human act of union with Christ, the union of God to the elect having taken place in the Father and the Son setting their benevolent love upon the elect in eternity past." (146) Justification isn't a reward for having faith, because we were already in God's favour when we came to faith, faith itself being part of God's favour, not means to an end. (Edwards was of course a staunch Calvinist and so this presupposes a strongly unconditional view of election.)

You made it to the final summary:
"Apart from perfect obedience to God's law, God's authority is not properly honored and the requirement for eternal life is not met. Therefore, apart from the perfect obedience of Christ, the salvation of sinners is impossible, for the honor of God's authority and law and the requirement for obtaining of eternal life would go unanswered." (155) Which means that only Christ's perfect obedience to God's rule of righteousness "is the only possible basis of the justification of sinners.
" (156)


Andrew Bowles said...

I struggle with how the concept of the 'infinite demerit', or measuring our disobedience against the size of God, can be maintained. Only God is infinite. Another infinite that stood beside God would be a form of dualism. The idea that sin can grow to an infinite seriousness in order to measure up to God, or that there could exist through human action an infinitely hateful state, is very strange. I find this to be the weakest part of Anselm's 'satisfaction' theory. And Edwards seems to be using it to make the atonement impossible, because it was as a finite, fully human person that Christ died on the cross. If what Edward's is really saying is that sin is a qualitative state rather than a quantitative one, and therefore cannot be negated by a mere mass of goodness, then that would be much clearer to me.

Luke said...

That's an excellent question/observation I'll have to go away and think about it and read more Edwards.

Luke said...

Hey Andrew could infinity be a characteristic or a quality as opposed to an self-contained singularity? (This would still leave us with the problem of could other things have infinite qualities apart from God.)

Andrew Bowles said...

I think there is a difference between actual and potential infinity. God is an actual infinity, but any spiritual being is a potential infinity because of our capacity for eternal life and eternal growth. That potential infinity can never fully be actualised, but that is the point.

Since I would identify sin with non-being, I don't think it has the capacity for infinity. The whole sin-death nexus, and the need for resurrection, arises because sin destroys its own ontological basis.